Awkward Photos of Amazing Talks

have been to many great talks the Joint Meetings so far. I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you here, but the photos I took are, well, awkward. Luckily the AMS has real photographers to capture the live visual spirit of these talks better than I could. But, in the spirit of the vast majority of JMM talk photos, here is my offering of terrible photos of great talks. I have foregone even cropping these (so you can truly imagine yourself in the audience).

William Cook’s talk “Information, computation, optimization: Connecting the dots in the traveling salesman problem”.

Let’s start with William Cook’s MAA Invited Lecture. Cook’s talk, about solving the TSP and related problems, was a wonder of computation, theory, history, and beautiful visualizations. Among many other achievements, he and his team have managed to compute the optimal pub-crawl route to visit all of the pubs in the UK. This was the first time I’d heard of Julia Robinson’s work on the related “assignment problem,” and Cook’s explanation of how the TSP can be tackled with linear programming was very illuminating and clear.

James Tanton’s “HOW MANY DEGREES ARE IN A MARTIAN CIRCLE? And other human (and non-human) questions one should ask about everyday mathematics”.

James Tanton gave Friday’s MAA Invited Lecture for Students, from which I learned SO many surprising things.  From the origin of the name of the sine function to finger multiplication, I wondered how I had never known this, and how someone was able to make me laugh so much while teaching me.  I had run into Tanton’s work while developing math circle problems, but this was the first time I had seen his talk in person.  I will not miss a chance to see him speak again.

Tadashi Tokieda’s talk, “Toy Models”.

Tadashi Tokieda’s MAA Invited Address was possibly the most fun and wonder-filled math talk I have ever seen.  He illustrated surprising physical and mathematical phenomena with simple toys.  His way of speaking and joking with the audience as he explains and illustrates is extremely charming. I wish that basically every scientist I know could have been there.

Moon Duchin’s “Political Geometry: Voting Districts, ‘Compactness’, and Ideas about Fairness”.

The MAA-AMS-SIAM Gerald and Judith Porter Public Lecture is sort of a grand finale to the big JMM lectures, and this one was a perfect conclusion. Or beginning, really—Moon Duchin’s lecture on using mathematics to describe and potentially fight gerrymandering was inspiring.  Perhaps even, as an audience member said during the Q&A period, “historic”.  Duchin revealed how both simple and sophisticated mathematics have essential roles in preserving/resurrecting American democracy. And she has plans for how we can all get involved!  Sign me up!

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